Salisbury University Libraries


Holloway Hall
A New Library — SU Library Planning I

Library Buildings — Why Bother in a Digital Age?

Dr. Alice H. Bahr, Dean of Libraries    10/17/2005

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Today’s academic libraries enhance community, facilitate learning, harness emerging technologies for access to information and centralize resources that define the quick-paced Information Age. This is undoubtedly why, “Architects in communities everywhere find themselves in the midst of a library building boom…. [The library] is not simply enjoying a renaissance but undergoing a radical transformation.” 1

SU Strategic Plan 2004-2008: “Provide resources, including a new facility and an enhanced operating budget, to make the library a focal point of learning, scholarship, interaction and invention among students, faculty and staff.”

SU Revised Mission Statement: “A high priority in the Facilities Master Plan, a future library will be a hub for academic discussion and discovery and will blend space for public events, community outreach, quiet study, research assistance, specialized materials and local archives, and the creation of digital publications.”

Rather than being obsolete, library buildings are now transforming campuses:

They are the only facility on campus that integrates the university’s most prized, costly, and prestigious resources:
  • technology
  • print resources, including manuscripts, maps, original primary materials, artifacts, and vast secondary resources too costly to ever be fully digitized
  • research instruction and information expertise
  • classrooms
  • faculty

  • They provide an array of work spaces students need outside of the classroom to work together collaboratively on academic projects:
  • group study areas of varying sizes for discussions
  • different sized spaces for interactive, joint computer use
  • a variety of technology areas for media production and presentations

  • They provide a shared and safe academic space accessible for long periods of time that provides a academic context for:
  • quiet study and reflection
  • exhibits, including art exhibits
  • research

  • They provide clearly identifiable, easily accessible service space that serves all academic departments:
  • tutoring programs
  • writing centers
  • student academic enrichment programs
  • undergraduate research programs (Architect, Carole Wedge: “In the last 10 years, the curriculum has become much more 'engaged,' with students doing original research and collaborating with other students.”)2
  • ESL
  • publication offices for scholarly university journals
  • art galleries and exhibit space

  • They provide ideal centers for special conferences and events, and routinely include coffee shops, sometimes cafeterias.

    They create a comfortable, hospitable but academic environment that facilitates faculty/student interaction and brings people together: At Dartmouth, the library is referred to as the café with books.

    They provide a convenient bridge between academic and local communities, a concept that includes sharing a facility (Nova University, San Jose) to sharing programs, e.g.children’s reading programs, community literacy, professional staff development, and community health education or business outreach.

    They provide space for specialized academic resources and technologies (accordingly, it is not uncommon to consolidate staffing for IT and libraries in the same facility):
  • digital map centers
  • satellite feeds for special events, telecasts
  • computer labs
  • information literacy commons
  • specialized electronic classrooms
  • faculty development areas

  • They provide a central shared academic space for faculty
  • collections
  • presentations
  • technology projects
  • independent research (faculty carrels)

  • They provide space and appropriate care and security for important university records (institutional archives.
    They provide space for specialized collections/activities that have significant outreach components to all research communities, such as Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture.
    They provide ceremonial spaces such as Rare Book Rooms for Friends of the Library and external support groups.
    They provide a central location where faculty can work with information specialists to collaboratively redesign student research assignments.
    They provide space, staff, and services for understanding how to access and use electronic resources effectively.
    Sixty percent of U.S. college students couldn’t tell the difference between web sites with or without advertising (OCLC White Paper on the Information Habits of College Students (Dublin, OH: 2001): 4.)
    They provide space for book collections. This need remains vital: Librarian of Congress James H. Billington notes: “People think everything goes on to the Internet these days, but the amount of print material is increasing by 7 percent a year.” 3


    The main reasons for building or renovating academic libraries between 1995 and 2002 was to:
  • increase building size
  • increase wired network connections and provide more computers
  • expand general seating capacity
  • provide network access from seating
  • increase collection shelving capacity

  • The researcher conducting the survey (357, 179 responding) also noted that “the library is becoming a more complex facility, one that…attracts students for multiple purposes….” 4

    Blackwell Library is unable to fulfill a library’s traditional role let alone assume new ones.
  • there is no sprinkler system to protect the more than 254,000 bound volumes and other resources
  • there is seating for only 7 percent of the recommended 20 percent recommended by the American Library Association 5
  • there are no classrooms, a critical need for undergraduate research classes and for faculty who want to integrate library resources into the fabric of specific classes
  • the absence of flexible, group study spaces inhibits the curriculum. The library’s, two 10-12 person group rooms,’ cannot provide the space needed to support collaborative assignments.
  • there is almost no space to house media and no spaces for viewing it, inhibiting support for film and other students with media assignments
  • in more than one instance, three library faculty share a single office space, negatively affecting efficiency and internal/external faculty collaboration
  • limited port availability and space results in students waiting in line to use computers, even though wireless laptops are lent
  • collection fragmentation impedes student research. The Edward H. Nabb Center for Delmarva History and Culture holds original documents, but a large number of related materials, including early newspapers on microfilm are in the library, forcing students to do their work piecemeal
  • cramped, inadequate conditions at the Nabb Center and the absence of central, specialized environmental controls limit the ability to acquire new materials, provide safety for existing materials, or hold classes there easily. Classes are held in an open reading room, while others simultaneously try to do research. Mold has been found in the archival materials.
  • holding events in the library requires closing the building (author readings, faculty events, Nabb Center workshops, events for potential and proven donors)
  • a full staff meeting cannot be held (space isn’t available)
  • there are no public restrooms on the main floor

  • Ultimately, the inability to seat sufficient students and provide the spaces and resources that they need for serious undergraduate study limits the institution’s ability to increase enrollments and frustrates the institution’s mission “to cultivate and sustain a superior, student centered learning community….”

    The main academic goal in the Salisbury University 2004-2008 Strategic Plan— “to enhance an academic and learning environment that promotes intellectual growth and success”— identifies the library as “a focal point of learning, scholarship, interaction and invention among students, faculty and staff.” Clearly, the present library facility, with all the constraints that it imposes on learning, teaching, and collaboration, cannot fulfill this planned expectation. The need for a communal, yet technologically active academic space is particularly important at an institution with an expanding undergraduate research program. For these students learning and place are synonymous.

    A new library at Salisbury University would create a collaborative whole and build a better future for the entire academic community. While classrooms are academic places, only one learning activity takes place in them. The library, by contrast, is a full learning center for a university and a benefit to the larger community that it serves.

    References to relevant articles:
    Morris, Jeff. "The College Library in the New Age." University Business, 5 #8, (Oct. 2002): 26+.
    Bahr, Alice. “Library buildings in a Digital Age, Why Bother?” College & Research Libraries News, 61 #7 (July/Aug. 2000): 590+.

    1Abagail VanSlyck, “A New Chapter,” Architectural Record (Oct. 2000): 151.
    2Jeff Morris, “The College Library in the New Age,” University Business (October, 2002):28.
    3Carl Hartman, “Md. fort to aid overcrowded Library of Congress,” The Daily Times (31 Aug. 2003): B6.
    4Harold B. Shill and Shawn Tonner, “Creating a Better Place: Physical Improvements in Academic Libraries, 1995-2002,” College & Research Libraries, 64, 6 (November, 2003): 458.
    5American Library Association standards recommend seating for 20 percent of the FTE student body on a campus that is less than 50 percent residential. In 2004, that would have meant 1,230 seats for the University’s approximately 6,150 students. Only 444, or 7 percent, are available.